Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Spartacus: “Chosen Path”

Illustration for article titled Spartacus: “Chosen Path”

It’s only natural that this week’s Spartacus represents something of a pause for air after the climactic events of last week’s episode. After all, one needs recovery time after destroying an entire arena filled with Romans while fighting off the gladiatorial horde upon the sands. Hell, I tend to rarely go to the gym back-to-back days to allow for my muscles to return to working order, and all I do is hit the treadmill for half an hour. But just because “The Chosen Path” didn’t feature epic set pieces doesn’t mean this was a wasted hour. The title refers not to journeys that characters took tonight. Rather, it refers to the way in which recent events reshape the paths that lay ahead of them.

In particular, the women of Spartacus were faced with many crossroads in tonight’s strong hour. In thinking about the television landscape, it’s easy to find shows that feature a strong female character. But it’s hard to find one that features as wide a range of complex female figures as Spartacus. While narratively impossible, I longed for a round table tonight in which Lucretia, Ilithyia, Mira, Naevia, and Chadara discussed the various ways in which they try to make sense of the world around them. What makes their struggles so interesting lies in the way in which the show eschews binaries of “feminine” and “masculine” in favor of “weakness” versus “strength.” That’s not to say there’s no gendered element to the problems they confront. But the show’s treatment of their complex choices goes beyond reductively categorizing their problems as specifically female.

All five women get ample time tonight to think about ways to forge new paths in the wake of the events at the arena. Lucretia and Ilithyia spend the majority of tonight leaning on one another again, although neither is sure entirely how stable that relationship is. Both have yielded power through their sexual and intellectual wiles, but the death of Albinius reflects back to the death of Batiatus. In both cases, the patriarchal nature of government, property ownership, and other legal issues leaves both women suddenly powerless. Glaber is free to baldly take Albinius’ livestock and sell them in order to raise a higher bounty on Spartacus’ head. Ashur, himself little more than a semi-freed slave, feels free to rape Lucretia without fear of retribution. But the two women are reduced to attempting to plant their ideas into the heads of those with voice to carry them to fruition. It’s the only remaining avenue of power available to them at this point.

In the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius, the other three women confront the reality that “freedom” affords them. All three are shackled in some way: Chadara seeks to replace the void left by Rhaskos; Naevia seeks to cleave her mind from the horrors of the mines; Mira seeks to find ways to contribute to Spartacus’ overall mission. Mira’s path this season has been stellar, but her increasing independence does have limits. While I spoke before of the ways in which the show doesn’t reduce things to “feminine” or “masculine,” it’s nevertheless a reality in this show that Mira would lose in hand-to-hand combat to many foes she might face directly. Thus, she eagerly takes up the opportunity to take up archery, a field that Alyssa Rosenberg recently noted is the skill of choice for modern-day action heroines. Physical strength matters little when faced with a master archer, and it’s a way for Mira to contribute in a way that acknowledges her limitations while playing to her strengths.

This stands as an example for the other two women in the villa, although Naevia and Chadara take away different lessons. In Naevia’s case, she finally comes around to actually re-asserting agency over herself, agency removed from her through the hard work and repeated rape at the hands of her slave master in the mines. Mira doesn’t give a pep talk to Naevia to make her snap out of her (legitimate) grief. She leads by example, piercing Chadara with an arrow through the chest while the latter sought to escape the camp with a map that would tip the Romans off to their future plans. After that, Naevia finally turns from suicidal grief toward the desire for self-improvement. When Crixus decries having to watch her suffer in silence, she replies, “I would not have you watch. I would have you teach.” She isn’t asking Crixus to teach her how to be a man. She’s asking him to teach her self-worth, inner strength, and moral purpose. These are the elements that make people strong in the world of Spartacus, not the length of their swords. Or, you know, the length of other things, I suppose.

Speaking of men and their swords, let’s finally turn our eyes toward the men of this show. It’s a bit mad to get this far into the review and not talk about the first extended scenes between Spartacus and Gannicus, but their time together set the stage for future events more so than made a deep impact in the present. Gannicus sticks around the villa in order to talk to a badly wounded Oenomaus, which affords him time to mock the ideals of Spartacus’ plan. “You are a man who stands only for himself,” notes The Artist Formerly Known as Doctore, which is something we already knew from “Libertus.” Still, am I going to complain about a sweet throwdown between two former champions over the aforementioned map? Hell no. That fight featured perhaps the best excuse for slo-mo in the show’s history, with Spartacus artfully switching grips on his sword after it was knocked spinning from his hand. Throw in some WWE-style wall-climbing dropkicks, and you had a fight with no winners, except those watching at home.


Still, if these two ever do get on the same page, it looks like they will have their hands full when it comes to fighting Glaber’s men. After all, they now augmented with Seppius’ army. And they are led by the newly assembled Brotherhood of Crazy Badass Mutherfuckers, conscripted by a newly-empowered and newly-shaven Ashur. Ashur proves the relative impotence of Roman soldiers by taking out three himself under Glaber’s gaze. (“And I was considered lowest among the brotherhood,” he notes.) Watching Ashur assemble crazy son of a bitch after crazy son of a bitch was fantastic, climaxing with The Egyptian in The Well, a man who could probably make Theokoles pee himself a little on the sands of the arena.By the time this horde sweeps through Seppius’ house under the control (for now) of Glaber, we’ve seen history somewhat repeat itself. Just as Batiatus used Ashur to remove Solonius from this mortal coil, so too has Glaber now removed a foe in the name of power through the Syrian’s cunning maneuvers. Lord knows it will be difficult to reign in the Brotherhood of Crazy Badass Mutherfuckers forever, but in the short term, they will raise enough hell to make perhaps even Spartacus himself start to worry.

Stray observations:

  • Thank the gods the “woe is me” Naevia will be replaced by something else. There’s a difference in accurately portraying grief and simply having a one-note character take up space.
  • No one will ever replace John Hannah, but Craig Parker is reducing the gap between the two with each successive week.
  • Ashur’s rape of Lucretia was absolutely brutal. For a show that has no fear in showing the naked human body, the way in which the scene primarily depicted the light going out in Lucretia’s eyes was somehow more horrifying.
  • I didn’t talk much about Seppia in relation to the other women featured in tonight’s episode. But I liked how quickly she saw through the “schemes of two old women.” Might she function as a latter season Aurelia, the fly in the otherwise perfect ointment inside the House of Batiatus?